President Clinton and his national security team ignored several opportunities to capture Osama bin Laden and his terrorist associates, including one as late as last year.
I know because I
negotiated more than one of the opportunities.
From 1996 to 1998, I
opened unofficial channels between Sudan and the Clinton administration. I
met with officials in both countries, including Clinton, U.S. National
Security Advisor Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and Sudan's president and
intelligence chief. President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who wanted
terrorism sanctions against Sudan lifted, offered the arrest and
extradition of Bin Laden and detailed intelligence data about the global
networks constructed by Egypt's Islamic Jihad, Iran's Hezbollah and the
Among those in the networks were the two
hijackers who piloted commercial airliners into the World Trade
The silence of the Clinton administration in responding to
these offers was deafening.
As an American Muslim and a political
supporter of Clinton, I feel now, as I argued with Clinton and Berger
then, that their counter-terrorism policies fueled the rise of Bin Laden
from an ordinary man to a Hydra-like monster.
Realizing the growing
problem with Bin Laden, Bashir sent key intelligence officials to the U.S.
in February 1996.
The Sudanese offered to arrest Bin Laden and
extradite him to Saudi Arabia or, barring that, to "baby-sit"
him--monitoring all his activities and associates.
officials didn't want their home-grown terrorist back where he might plot
to overthrow them.
In May 1996, the Sudanese capitulated to U.S.
pressure and asked Bin Laden to leave, despite their feeling that he could
be monitored better in Sudan than elsewhere.
Bin Laden left for
Afghanistan, taking with him Ayman Zawahiri, considered by the U.S. to be
the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks; Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, who
traveled frequently to Germany to obtain electronic equipment for Al
Qaeda; Wadih El-Hage, Bin Laden's personal secretary and roving emissary,
now serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in the 1998 U.S.
embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya; and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and
Saif Adel, also accused of carrying out the embassy attacks.
of these men are now among the FBI's 22 most-wanted terrorists.
two men who allegedly piloted the planes into the twin towers, Mohamed
Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, prayed in the same Hamburg mosque as did Salim
and Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian trader who managed Salim's bank accounts
and whose assets are frozen.
Important data on each had been
compiled by the Sudanese.
But U.S. authorities repeatedly turned
the data away, first in February 1996; then again that August, when at my
suggestion Sudan's religious ideologue, Hassan Turabi, wrote directly to
Clinton; then again in April 1997, when I persuaded Bashir to invite the
FBI to come to Sudan and view the data; and finally in February 1998, when
Sudan's intelligence chief, Gutbi al-Mahdi, wrote directly to the
Gutbi had shown me some of Sudan's data during a three-hour
meeting in Khartoum in October 1996. When I returned to Washington, I told
Berger and his specialist for East Africa, Susan Rice, about the data
available. They said they'd get back to me. They never did. Neither did
they respond when Bashir made the offer directly. I believe they never had
any intention to engage Muslim countries--ally or not. Radical Islam, for
the administration, was a convenient national security threat.
that was not the end of it. In July 2000--three months before the deadly
attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen--I brought the White House another
plausible offer to deal with Bin Laden, by then known to be involved in
the embassy bombings. A senior counter-terrorism official from one of the
United States' closest Arab allies--an ally whose name I am not free to
divulge--approached me with the proposal after telling me he was fed up
with the antics and arrogance of U.S. counter-terrorism
The offer, which would have brought Bin Laden to the
Arab country as the first step of an extradition process that would
eventually deliver him to the U.S., required only that Clinton make a
state visit there to personally request Bin Laden's extradition. But
senior Clinton officials sabotaged the offer, letting it get caught up in
internal politics within the ruling family--Clintonian diplomacy at its
Clinton's failure to grasp the opportunity to unravel
increasingly organized extremists, coupled with Berger's assessments of
their potential to directly threaten the U.S., represents one of the most
serious foreign policy failures in American
Mansoor Ijaz, a member of the Council on Foreign
Relations, is chairman of a New York-based investment company.